The ‘Soft Skills’ That Make Women Stronger Leaders

October 11, 2019

Women leaders

It may be called a “soft skill,” but emotional intelligence is one of the most valuable proficiencies a woman leader can master—both for her own advantage and for the competitive advantage of her organization.

Are you an emotionally intelligent leader? Here are questions I would propose you ask yourself to find out if you possess the top qualities of a strong leader:

Are you being inclusive? In today’s world, inclusivity must be a central part of your work and mission. Effective leaders know and understand the value of a diverse environment. Research has shown that one way to increase your team’s productivity and mental well-being is to bring them a sense of belonging and feeling comfortable. Being inclusive means having the understanding that all people are created equal but are not the same. You must be able to acknowledge and recognize your peers’ and employees’ differences in a respectful manner.

Are you courageous? You must have the courage to make mistakes, learn, and grow. I honestly never thought I would be a senior executive in IT, or do a TEDx talk, or travel around the world, but with each risk I take, I’ve been shown that the sky is not the limit, as others say—it is only my current view. We need to have uncomfortable conversations when a team member’s behavior calls for it, and we need to go outside our comfort zones and move ahead toward the unknown. Growth and courage are on the other side.

Are you humble? You want to ensure you can acknowledge that the only way to succeed is with the help of others. I am never afraid to acknowledge that I don’t know something or to admit to a mistake I made. I stop programmers in the middle of a technical meeting and ask them to explain the technical jargon they just used. You need to be modest about your capabilities and admit your mistakes while creating the space for others to contribute.

Are you empowering others? How you treat people is always a choice, and you can choose to be uplifting and supportive instead of being condescending and rude. You need to understand that a diverse team is much greater than the sum of its parts. My job here is not to tell people what to do, and I want to inspire them to innovate on their own. This is where coaching and mentoring come in, which give less experienced employees valuable feedback, insight, and support while passing down wisdom and institutional knowledge.

Do you and others consider you to be trustworthy? From my experience, trust only comes when you do what you said you were going to do. One of my all-time favorite books is The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz, and the very first principle Miguel offers in this code of conduct for life is to “Be impeccable with your word,” which reminds us all to speak with integrity, to say only what we mean, and to not use your words against yourself or to gossip about others. Nowadays, being ethical is no longer an option. It is expected of you, and nobody is going to follow a leader who chooses when to be or not to be ethical.

Companies want us to track our progress, meet our goals, and show continuous improvement. Metrics and milestones are important. But without leaders at all levels who embody the qualities that make us all human, no company can stay competitive.

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AMA’s Women’s Leadership Center offers programs, seminars and events that can make a profound impact on your career and future, like the November 4 Women’s Leadership Workshop in New York City that features Elaine Montilla as keynote speaker.

About The Author

Elaine Montilla is assistant vice president and CIO for information technology at CUNY Graduate Center and an AMA Women’s Leadership Center presenter. She is an accomplished senior executive with almost two decades as an IT leader in higher education. Montilla is also a TEDx speaker and the founder of, a blog and social media brand dedicated to empowering women and minorities, especially in tech.

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